On Suffering And Healing

Our ability to be useful, to be effective in our relationships toward a positive end, is largely contingent upon our ability to understand our own pain and suffering, and to use that understanding to help and to heal ourselves and others.

The exact details, circumstances, and causes of our individual suffering may differ from those around us. We are are all unique and we each have unique experiences. Even the way we each experience the same or similar situations is unique to each of us individually based on our personal histories, perspectives, and values or beliefs.

Where we are not unique, however, is in the fact that, whether caused by physical pain or illness, by loss, by hardship, or even simply by fear itself, we all experience suffering in our lives at one point or another. How we experience suffering may be unique to us as individuals, but that we have or will experience it is not. If we embrace this unfortunate fact of life instead of denying it, avoiding it, or hiding from it, we will discover that the shared universality of our suffering, instead of isolating us from one another, actually enjoins us and gives us the tools by which to better understand each other.

Once we understand our own suffering, both its causes and effects, we begin to see others in a more compassionate light. Instead of seeing their flaws, mistakes, and perceived wrongdoings as malicious and intentional, we start to understand that they too have been hurt, are hurting, or are afraid of being hurt, and that what is expressed outwardly as anger, greed, or selfishness, is nothing more than attempted self-protection, a shield from vulnerability that likely has more to do with their avoidance of suffering than it does with us personally. In this way, self-understanding opens the door to empathy and empathy is the path to healing.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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